TWIAD is your weekly, English-language briefing on national security and defence affairs in the alpine republic. The most relevant news reports, press releases, articles and announcements are recapped and, where necessary, given some context for greater accessibility. Feel free to get in touch with us and give us your feedback and thoughts, ask questions in the comments and join the #TWIAD raucity on Twitter!
For this week’s premiere, we are going back a little further, recapping articles starting March 15.
DACH defence mininsters’ meet in Berlin
The defence ministers of Austria, Germany and Switzerland met in Berlin on March 15 to talk about cooperation in security policy and cyber challenges. Hans-Peter Doskozil (AUT), Ursula von der Leyen (GER) and Guy Parmelin (SUI) agreed on a strengthened cooperation in medical care and measures to counter cyber crime.
Sharp decline in service complaints continues in 2016
The parliamentary commission for the Armed Forces (Parlamentarische Bundesheerkommission) presented its annual report on March 15, pointing out further marked decline in service and disciplinary complaints: Having recorded 508 formal complaints in 2014 and 398 such cases in 2015, only 144 complaints were filed over the past year.
Source: Annual Report 2015
A majority of 42% was related to training and daily duty, followed by 35% concerning personnel matters. Harassment and failings in medical care were common themes. 30% of complaints were filed by conscripts.
The commission’s members attributed the sharp decline to the improved overall morale in the forces, but pointed out a need for action in areas such as personal gear, infrastructural facilities, the ongoing efforts to raise the service’s overall attractiveness and, most importantly, the conscripts’ low pay. Members also criticised conscripts’ low monthly pay of approximately €300 and voiced target figures for an increase ranged from an additional €200 to €500.
Diplomatic retaliation: Turkey targeting Austria in NATO
Austria’s ambassador to NATO on March 17 stated that Turkey is “blocking Austrian activities” associated to the alliance: Officers are denied access to courses at NATO Defence College in Rome, accreditations to NATO HQ in Brussels are refuted and soldiers are kept from participating in trainings for joint missions. A Turkish spokeswoman confirmed the allegations, and while other PfP nations such as Finland, Sweden, Australia and Switzerland are taking collateral damage, claiming that the revanchist policies are directed at Austria alone. While cooperation between Austrian and Turkish personnel on the ground level is unimpeded for now, Austria is concerned about the future of its participation in KFOR, one of its key deployments in the near-abroad.
Following a diplomatic row over Turkey’s crackdown on government critics, Ankara had pulled back its ambassador to Vienna in August. After quarrels over the country’s candidacy for EU membership, the Turkish foreign minister had announced to retaliate and “affront Austria on all levels and on all topics” in December.
Dual Citizenships: Bundesheer warned of potential abuse
A speaker for the Ministry of Defence on March 16 criticised the Department for the Interior for not reacting to a letter the Austrian Armed Forces’ central personnel department had sent in September 2016. The document pointed out a growing number of cases of former conscripts requesting formal service confirmation documents for submission to Turkish authorities. The department voiced the suspicion that these former servicemen are in possession of both Austrian and Turkish citizenships. This constitutes a breach of §26 of the Austrian Citizenship Act which states that Austrian citizenship is lost upon acquiring a foreign nationality, assuming service in the military of another state, seizure or renunciation. The topic has recently gained relevance after Turkish officials caused a stir by campaigning for the upcoming constitutional referendum in various EU member countries.
Swiss Mountain Infantry Brigade 12 takes win at Edelweiss Raid 2017
Swiss Gebirgsjäger came out on top of this year’s Edelweiss Raid, the prime international competition for mountain infantry, on March 17. Next to the Austrian hosts and the winners from Switzerland, soldiers from Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Montenegro, Poland and Romania had come to face the harsh alpine terrain of the Tux Alps as well as taxing tactical assignments. The German team of Gebirgsjägerbrigade 23 and the Austrians of Jägerbataillon 24 came second and third respectively, after overcoming 40km and more than 4000m of altitude during two days of competition.
Defence Minister Doskozil throws a punch
The minister demonstrated he is not a man to trifle with, breaking a wooden board with an elbow strike during a March 17 visit at a Taekwondo dojo in Vienna.
#notmypresident: Soldiers facing disciplinary proceedings
Bundesheer career soldiers and conscripts are facing disciplinary proceedings after having posted images captioned #notmypresident on social media, stating that they would not recognise the newly elected head of state, who is also the armed forces’ commander-in-chief.
Heinz-Christian Strache, head of the right-wing freedom party, on March 19 sharply criticised the proceedings, arguing that their statements were in accordance with freedom of expression.
Austrian Honour Guards Spring Concert
The Austrian Honour Guards’ marching band on March 20 played their annual spring concert in the sold-out Festival Hall of the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.
Austria’s newly-elected President Alexander Van der Bellen, Minister of Defence Hans-Peter Doskozil as well as Chief of Defence, GEN Othmar Commenda were among the 1,400 guests and witnessed the “Alexander-Van-der-Bellen March” world premiere – by tradition, a personal march is composed for each Austrian head of state.
Demonstrating the versatility of one of the world’s prime military orchestras, the professional soldiers and conscripts of the Guards Battalion played classical as well as contemporary pieces, some in concert with the soprano Malin Hartelius and the Vienna Boys Choir.
The event’s proceeds went to the organisation Rainbows that supports children and youth who are affected by separation from, divorce or death of reference persons as well as to the Friends of the Vienna Boys Choir who support the choir in various ways.
— Max Mayerhofer (@Weyrother) March 22, 2017
“GGSA 2017” joint combat and live fire exercise to commence
600 personnel of various units conducting a joint combat exercise at Allentsteig military training area March 20-31. Officer and NCO cadets rehearse the interaction between the armed forces’ various branches with a large-scale live fire exercise on March 23.
Alouette III helicopters now scheduled to remain in service until 2025
While original plans called for a phasing-out until 2020, the Austrian Armed Forces’ 24 Alouette III helicopters are now scheduled to be kept operational until 2025, according to Austrian Wings on March 21.
29 of the venerable rotorcraft have been procured between 1967 and 1973. Despite having served for half a century, they remain capable assets in high alpine terrain and see continued use for liaison, transport, rescue and training duties.
Defence Minister Doskozil argues for amendment to enable EU border guard deployments
The Austrian minister for defence advocated for an amendment to the statutes governing the foreign deployment of military personnel on March 21. In a reaction to repeated Turkish threats to scrap a migrant deal with the European Union, the government is working to prepare for a possible sharp increase of arrivals. An amendment would be aimed at legalising the deployment of military personnel without the mandate of an international organisation. The measure is aimed at enabling Austrian participation in guarding the EU external borders. Opposition parties are divided over the proposal.
Military police under scrutiny after far-right activists hang banner from Turkey’s embassy
Activists of the far-right “identitarian movement” rolled out a banner on the façade of Turkey’s embassy on March 22. Turkish officials promptly blamed Austrian authorities for what they called a “serious security and intelligence deficiency” in protecting the compound. Two military policemen tasked with the building’s surveillance apparently failed to notice the activists’ approach over the roofs of neighbouring premises.
Bundesheer soldiers are tasked with the safeguarding of foreign embassies as part of an ongoing domestic deployment to assist police, but do not have the same authorities.
Eurofighter Typhoon fleet faces possibility of permanent grounding
Minister of Defence Doskozil voiced the possibility of permanently grounding the Bundesheer’s 15 Eurofighter Typhoon if a more cost-efficient option can be found for surveilling the nation’s airspace. Starting March 23, BGEN Karl Gruber, the armed forces’ air chief, is tasked with presiding over a 27-strong commission that is due to present “economic and military alternatives” to the cost-intensive platform. The commission’s report is expected forJune 27.
The jets’ purchase was troubled from the start and is once more the subject of controversy: In February, the Ministry of Defence filed charges against Airbus over alleged fraudulent wrongdoings and a parliamentary commission of inquiry will be appointed on March 29.
Recommended reading: Typhoon In A Teacup? Austrian Air Power, Pt. I
Exercise “AIDA 17”: Protecting critical infrastructure
Soldiers of 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion and reservists of Korneuburg infantry company, 300 in total, joined forces with 100 police to train the protection of critical infrastructure in Lower Austria. Vehicle stoppages, searches and detentions were rehearsed March 21-23 in an effort to enhance the cooperation between the regional military and police commands.
Have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments or tweet at us!
Featured image (top): Philipp Hartberger
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